‘Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon.’ Fodor, J. ‘Why Pigs don’t have wings,’ London Review of Books, 18th Oct 2007

Monday, 31 January 2011

Nick Spencer on Christianity, Simplicity and Learning

Nick Spencer writes an interesting piece in the Guardian Comment is Free section. "Christianity: a faith for the simple" . He believes that "Christianity's founding ideals are anti-elitist" and asks whether we "should...be surprised if its followers are less educated than average?"

There are some interesting points in this piece. But I would raise a couple of points.

Firstly, the question of whether Christians suffer discrimination in educational establishments because of their beliefs is an important one. Those who do not hold to the beliefs of the Enlightenment often find their faith marginalised; perhaps it is just subtle, for instance by receiving lower marks for work than someone who holds to the prevailing orthodoxy of secular humanism. But sometimes it is overt.

Secondly, Christians should not reject or despise good education. Many of the early Christian missionaries and saints founded schools of learning and we are instructed in Scripture to study and work hard. What is I think important is to have a humble approach to learning.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Geoffrey Lean asks - do we need GM?

Geoffrey Lean in the Telegraph asks whether we need GM crops. Do we need GM to feed the world? It's not as simple as it seems

He raises the question of whether we need to utilise GM technology in order to feed the world and references studies that suggest that GM may actually damage crop yields.

He writes that the "world’s biggest ever agricultural study – the work of 400 scientists and 60 governments, headed by Dr Bob Watson, now Chief Scientist at Department of the Environment, Food and Agriculture – concluded that GM was not the simple answer to poverty. In truth, it could even do more harm than good." Lean suggests there are several problems with the belief that GM crops will be a solution to the growing pressure to increase crop yields in order to feed the worlds growing population.

1. GM takes such a long time to develop that advances with non GM crops through selective breeding programmes are often found to be more productive.

2. GM is focused upon making profit for companies and such companies are not very interested in providing food for the world's poorest farmers who cannot afford the technology. Lean writes that there is a tendency for GM to enhance the power of those wealthy enough to afford the technology, and even if it is successful it may only force the poor farming communities off the land. Poverty then is increased even if yields are increased overall and the poor may not be able to afford to buy food they once produced for themselves more cheaply.

3. GM may actually decrease the yield because the crops are not selected for yield, but for resistance to certain diseases. This may weaken the crops overall. GM crops may also lead to 'superweeds' in the struggle for life.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Law and Religion - Jonathan Chaplin offers his insights

Jonathan Chaplin offers his insights into the recent legal case against the Bulls and legal opinion established by the Lord Justice Laws Law can be influenced by religion - We need a lot more clarity on the subtle relationship between law and religion

Chaplin recognises two problems with Laws' opinion "One is that the state can only justify a law on the grounds that it can be seen rationally and objectively to advance the general good (I paraphrase)." Chaplin believes rightly that this is subjective and therefore not a proper foundation, and that "Laws' other claim is that religious belief is, for all except the holder, "incommunicable by any kind of proof or evidence", and that the truth of it "lies only in the heart of the believer"."

Quite clearly many religious believers hold their faith publicly and not only in their hearts, and therefore seek to work it out in the public square exercised with a deep seated conscience. But Laws opinion will lead to the privatisation of faith, where Christians will be barred from certain occupations because of their conscience. The Bulls B&B is closed and the news reports suggest will be sold. So Christians now face discrimination in the work place because of their faith with no legal right to conscientiously uphold their faith. The justification for legal rights within a secular system is one based on democratic legitimacy, but as we know the last government held onto power with less than 40% of the vote and exercised an antipathy or indifference towards the Christian conscience. There is confusion today over the difference between traditionally understood inherent rights and Epicurean pleasure seeking that is justified on the basis of a claimed genetic disposition. Today we have Hume'an Rights not necessarily Human Rights.

It is also evident that there is less legal scrutiny of Islamic conscience in these matters. Lady Warsi claims that there is anti-Muslim discrimination in Britain, and perhaps there is to some extent, but discrimination against Christians is more open in law. Has any Muslim hotelier been brought to book for these same matters for instance? What is needed is a way of balancing the freedom of the individual with the rights of traditional faith communities to practice their faith without the fear of discrimination and persecution at the hands of an increasingly secular state legal apparatus.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Bullying and Intimidation at the hands of other Christians?

I want to raise a serious issue here, and it is this; why do some Christians who in many ways seem tolerant and respectful to others think it acceptable to bully and intimidate Christians who are creationists ?

Stephen Tomkins of ShipofFools website (and deputy editor of Third Way magazine) writes that 'Civility Works - mostly'. Although he calls for civil discourse he argues that "we also at other times need to give vent to anger at ugly and harmful ideas. At times we need to bolster and unify the opposition of right-thinking people to them. At times we need every rhetorical trick up our mucky sleeves to convince waverers that horrid and stupid ideas are horrid and stupid." He is here referring to creationists because he first writes that he thinks creationism is "a bottomless pit of deliberate stupidity."

But why is it acceptable to use 'rhetorical tricks' to 'bolster and unify right thinking people' and so silence those who hold to ideas that are "horrid and stupid" ? If people are right thinking won't they accept an idea on the basis of reason alone? There are of course some beliefs that will look odd to outsiders, such as the Hindu belief in reincarnation, but our response should be one of respectful dialogue.

There are other occasions I have found when admission that I am a creationist attracts accusations of being stupid and a deliberate liar. But what does this really reveal? That perhaps some Christians are cowardly and unable to stand out from the crowd in support of ideas that are not mainstream. Perhaps it is thought that being cool, or a joker, or fitting with the 'in crowd' will somehow lead people to Christ?

In fact if I wasn't a creationist I think I would become one just to expose the weakness of character that such attacks reveal. Such comments I believe reflect the attitude of the playground bully and need to be challenged. Surely we can extend respect to those who hold ideas that may differ from our own.
Andrew Sibley

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Are Christians being persecuted for their beliefs? - Ekklesia again

We have two 'gay' stories in the press at the moment. A Christian couple in Cornwall have been fined for refusing a gay couple a double room. Perhaps they really did break the law as it now stands, but I don't see how these cases against ordinary hard working people benefit the gay community in the long run because it looks vindictive and mean spirited. And it doesn't address persecution from those who are really antagonistic towards gay people. Christians are easy targets.

Another story concerns Mrs Lesley Pilkington, a respected long standing psychotherapist who has offered to counsel people to be healed of their sexual orientation. The British Association of Psychology and Counselling is holding a hearing after an undercover reporter recorded her comments. Ekklesia, with quotes from the Bristish Humanist Association, are getting hot-under-the-collar and reporting this as 'objectionable' and 'wrong.' See Biblically inspired gay conversion ‘therapy’ is objectionable and wrong

I do wonder about Ekklesia. The word is Greek and used for 'church' as the congregation of Israel in the LXX version of the Old Testament. The 'Think Tank' Ekklesia though spend much of their effort attacking a large section of the Christian Church. Are they a cause of division?

There is a division in the church between those who hold to a liberal, perhaps socialist or humanistic agenda and those who are more conservative and traditionalist in their outlook. But there are others who seek spiritual revival and the outworking of God's grace in the present time while remaining committed to traditional beliefs. But many liberal Christians seem to have little comprehension of the concept of 'grace' and believe instead in human centred social progress. This is where the real clash of ideas lies, between those who hold to a theo-centric faith directed by God's grace and those who seek an anthropocentric faith driven by a belief in human progress.

The gay question is complex and I don't have time to discuss it here, but there are many young people confused by popular messages in the media about their sexuality. It isn't good enough to say to such confused people that they were born a certain way because it may lead to a disjunction between confused mental thoughts and deep seated emotional needs to relate to the opposite sex. Christians should have the freedom to counsel young people in this area and offer healing to those who are confused and so bring harmony to thoughts and emotions. There may be others who are genuinely disinterested in the opposite sex, and people should have the freedom to choose their lifestyle, but we shouldn't pretend that all are mentally at ease with the confusing messages they receive via the media. I believe there is divine grace to heal through the dynamis (power) of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Intrusive science is killing penguins

A report in Nature suggests that the tagging of king penguins damages their survival chances. Tagging kills penguins

The write up in the Guardian comments that "The researchers found that the survival rates for king penguins with flipper bands dropped by 16% and the birds produced 39% fewer chicks. The finding raises serious questions about the ethics of banding penguins for research and casts doubt on years of data produced by tagging the birds in this way."

This research highlights some of the distress that excessive scientific intrusion into the life of animals can cause them. Perhaps there is a lesson here that much greater care needs to be taken in gathering data on animals and birds.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Evangelical Alliance and Attitudes to Evolution

There is a new report by the Evangelical Alliance that includes attitudes to evolution amongst evangelicals. The Church of England newsletter suggests it reveals that attitudes are changing to evolution with 6 out of 10 evangelicals now believing that evolution is compatible with Christianity.

Although it is a large sample of more than 17,000 church members and conference goes, the question on evolution is suitably vague and in two parts. Why do experts in this field insist on asking people two questions and allow only one response? Also it is not very well qualified because it doesn't specify clearly what is meant by evolution; even young earth creationist Henry Morris accepted the possibility of fairly rapid micro-evolution for instance. So I don't think it is a particularly meaningful result.

The question; "I believe that evolution and Christianity are incompatible: you cannot believe both"

Personally speaking, if asked this I would want to answer; 'what do you mean by evolution?' If micro-evolution I would disagree with the first part; if macro-evolution I would agree with the first part. And I would want to answer that you can be a Christian and believe in macro-evolution, even though I believe macro-evolution is untrue.

Responses are as follows.
Agree a lot; Agree a little; Unsure; Disagree a little; Disagree a lot.
Evangelical Christian (festival sample)
18% - 8% - 14% - 20% - 39%
Evangelical Christian (church sample)
30% - 9% - 18% - 16% - 27%

Monday, 10 January 2011

Can BCSE only think in Black and White?

The British Centre for Science Education fails to see shades of opinion in creationist thought. From evidence on their blog they seem unable to put together nuanced arguments and dissect people's positions carefully. Instead if you read the BCSE blog you will be left with the impression that all creationists and intelligent design supporters are anti-science and now apparently anti the environment as well. For an organisation that has set itself up as a guardian for good standards in education it is a shame they can't do better than this and look at the picture in a wider context.

For the record, at the Science and Values blog we are concerned with both science and the environment.